There was a time in my life when I thought “real” readers didn’t read mystery, and I was somewhat embarrassed about my mystery proclivity. That was before I was introduced to the late Ruth Rendell, and also long before I wrote mysteries of my own.
I’ve since gone on to read everything Rendell has ever written, and my one disappointment is that I never got to meet her.
Rendell proved to me that mysteries could be well-written. They didn’t have to be pulpish and predictable. Another author that I read early on was PD James
Both of these authors are gone now, but newer younger authors are taking their place; Kate Atkinson, Gillian Flynn (who I have reviewed for this blog), SJ Watson (who I have also reviewed for this blog), Kate Morton and others.
Morton’s The Lake House, the feature of today's blog, had me glued to the my Kobo eReader screen long into the night.
If you’ve followed this blog, you will know I have written here about the history of the mystery novel, beginning with pulp fiction. Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions and say that all pulp fiction is bad writing. It certainly is not. Yet most of it doesn’t have that literary bent that I personally enjoy in a book - musical sentences, compelling plots, and multi-dimensional and flawed characters.
I have read two Kate Morton books so far, and both kept me riveted. My book club read The House at Riverton which whetted my appetite. When a friend suggested that I might enjoy The Lake House, I bought it and downloaded it immediately.
The book, almost gothic in its scope, is in essence two stories, no I will amend that—it is multiple stories which span decades and generations. Every “story” is complete with flawed characters and its own plot.
The introductory character, the one that begins The Lake House is Alice, and we see her in 1933 burying a box of “evidence”:
The rain was heavy now and the hem of her dress was splattered with mud. She’d have to hide it afterward; no one could know that she’d been out.
The 2003 story begins with the character of disgraced police officer Sadie:
Sun cut between the leaves, and Sadie ran so that her lungs begged her to stop. She didn’t though; she ran harder, savoring the reassurance of her footfalls.
And of course, the stories, the many of them, intertwine like tangled vines, leaving the reader reading breathlessly until they all weave together satisfactorily at the end.
At first I thought I was going to get confused. I generally like one plot-one character stories, but I did not. I loved this, and will read more of her work.
This leads me to my subject premise— a book like this, a Gothic mystery which spans the years and involves clues, red herrings, blind alleys, and everyone’s own compelling story, needs to be read more than once. Read it only once, and you go from the beginning to the end. You find out “who dunnit.”
Read it again, and the writing springs alive, you can appreciate the placement of clues, why “that” bit of conversation was so important at that place, why “this” clue was placed here and not there. Give it a second reading and there is no feeling of being let down because you “already know” the outcome. No, a second reading will lead you to appreciate how the author did it, and why this falls into the category of Literary Thriller, and not Ordinary Pulp fiction.
Here is a list of Literary Thrillers according to Goodreads. Here is another.
In two weeks: Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King's short story collection.